The war on terror: why it's still important

Dr Katharine Hall, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary, looks at why the war on terror has continued relevance for global politics.

This post is by Dr Katharine Hall, Module Leader for Queen Mary Online's MA in International Relations. 

This year 2021 saw the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that marked the beginning of the war on terror. The interim security strategy of the Biden administration was also published in early 2021, which signaled a change in the global security landscape, calling for the US to “chart a new course.”

Given these changes and the passing of time, why study the war on terror now? Here are three legacies of the war on terror that continue to shape how the US engages with the world today.

1) Tactics

While drones were used by the US military prior to 9/11, the proliferation of US drone strikes can without a doubt be attributed to the war on terror. Targeted killing was not always the central tool of the war on terror – torture and detention, along with military invasion, shaped its early years.

However, after President Obama took office, the use of drone strikes increased exponentially, signaling a shift in the way the war on terror was waged.

This use of drones has expanded beyond this context as well, from the development of surveillance drone technology to be used across military missions – ex. Black Hornet micro-drones – to the use of drones by police departments and private businesses.

The impact of drone warfare has been widespread and will continue to reverberate across various military, security, and private sectors.

Interested in America's role in global affairs? Dr Kate Hall explores why you should study American foreign policy:

Take a look >

2) Security State

A defining piece of legislation of the war on terror was the USA Patriot Act and its effects are still being sorted through with the release of the Snowden documents.

State surveillance, and the security state more generally, isn’t a new phenomenon, but we can see how many of these practices developed in the context of counterterrorism have now been exported to other areas.

Questions emerge, for example, about state and military response to the pandemic and the use of surveillance technologies to promote mass surveillance.

3) Nature of War

A third legacy of the war on terror is the questions that it has posed for how the meaning and nature of war is changing. The use of force by the United States after 9/11 was largely given justification by the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

This authorization, however, was written to be open-ended and implied more of a focus on individuals and organizations and it is still in effect today. While not the only factor, we can see the part this has played in changing the geography of war as waged by United States – what many have now called a global battlefield or everywhere war.

These are some of the legacies of the war on terror that we will continue to grapple with in the international security arena, and they are legacies we engage with in both War and International Security and Themes and Cases in US Foreign Policy modules during the Queen Mary Online MA International Relations:

Explore the programme >

Topics: MA international relations

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